Thursday 28 September 2017

30th anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation

Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered on US television 30 years ago today! A seminal series foreshadowing technology we now use on a daily basis. From touchscreens to voice assistants...

I wouldn't see Encounter at Farpoint until the following summer and become a fully-fledged fan until after Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989. Star Trek: The Next Generation filled a void left by timey-wimey adventures and I had a teenage crush on Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) who vied for poster space with actresses Jennifer Connelly and Winona Ryder.

Avidly read Marvel UK's official magazine, which republished DC Comics' strips and Starlog articles. When the magazine folded in 1992, I switched to the defunct Starlog magazine. Collected Playmates' action figures and accessories and amassed Galoob's Micro Machines as an undergraduate. Playmates' electronic USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D still has pride of place in my collection.

It's worth noting I attended my first ever comic con in 1996 at university. The highlight was an informative Q&A with Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) model maker Chris Boyd. He talked fondly of meeting the late Leonard Nimoy at Forbidden Planet and shared an amusing anecdote involving Marina Sirtis on the set of Star Trek: Generations. She allegedly suffered from serious 'gas' following a restaurant meal and...

Later in the Q&A the subject of the Star Wars prequels arose. Boyd confirmed that the title was Shadows of the Empire! The assembled throng raved. However, knowing that this was not the case, having read an article in Edge magazine, I pointed out that Shadows of the Empire was a multi-platform marketing project centered on the launch of Nintendo's upcoming 64-bit games console known at the time as the Ultra 64. My comments were met with derision. History would suggest otherwise.

Star Trek: The Next Generation first-run episodes switched from BBC2 to Sky 1 and was the first series I binge-viewed thanks to a friend stockpiling episodes on VHS whilst I was away studying for a degree in Media Production.

Star Trek would see further television spin-offs including Deep Space Nine, Voyager and Enterprise. However, none of them would capture my imagination the way The Next Generation did until Discovery, which premiered this week on CBS All Access and Netflix outside the US.

This evening I'm going to watch Yesterday's Enterprise, The Dauphin and The Best of Both Worlds Pt I & II on Netflix. Incidentally, CBS commissioned digitally remastered episodes of the entire seven seasons and the results are spectacular. It's like watching a brand new series in high-definition with Dolby Digital Plus surround sound.

You can buy the S1-7 boxset on Blu-ray disc from Amazon.

What are your memories? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Star Trek: Discovery boldly goes for a darker future

The highly-anticipated Star Trek: Discovery began streaming this week on CBS All Access and Netflix outside the US.

This is the first new Star Trek television series since Enterprise ended in 2005 and much is riding on its success in the wake of JJ Abrams' cinematic reboot. So, how did Discovery fare against previous pilot episodes in the franchise's 51-year storied history?

“The only word to effectively describe it is…. wow.” These are the words of Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and the two-part season premiere is better than Encounter at Farpoint, which aired 30 years ago this month.

The pilot opens on a desert world in a scene reminiscent of Rey scavenging parts from a derelict Star Destroyer on Jakku in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Clearly, the producers are aiming to expand the fanbase with the help of the Force. Of course many fans (myself included) follow both franchises, but I welcome the change of pace aping the cinematic reboots of Star Trek and Star Wars under the auspices of JJ Abrams.

Some fans may decry the lack of exploration, a central tenet of original series creator Gene Roddenberry, in favour of a more militaristic tone so early in the series. However, this prequel feels more like the lauded Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Yesterday's Enterprise with hints to the Mirror Universe. Sci-fi is at its best as allegory and Discovery deals with the real and present danger of isolationism.

The Federation's actions are difficult to empathise with as it goes to war with the Klingons. It's a darker tale with a flawed protagonist. Yes, Star Trek has been in this territory before in Deep Space Nine and Voyager, but never so morally grey. This is Star Trek post Battlestar Galactica and it's frakking awesome. Sorry not sorry.

There are lens flares aplenty and a gorgeous stellar backdrop eclipsing the film series in a fashion I didn't foresee on the small screen. From a space walk borrowing heavily from Marvel's Iron Man and 2001: A Space Odyssey to the futuristic interior of the USS Shenzhou with its android crew member and voice assistant (now integral to our daily lives as foreshadowed by Star Trek: The Next Generation). Shiny Star Trek is shiny and replete with fun Easter Eggs that longtime fans of Gene Roddenberry's franchise will appreciate.

Minor niggles mostly pertain to editing, clunky dialogue (technobabble doesn't trip off the tongue), and use of music. Elements that can be fixed going forward and early previews suggest episode three is even better. Continuity hounds may baulk at a prequel that looks more advanced than the original series chronicling the voyages of the USS Enterprise commanded by Captain James T. Kirk.

After production woes which witnessed the departure of series showrunner Bryan Fuller, review embargoes and beginning life as a series solely to launch CBS All Access in the US. It’s great to see an energised (pun intended) Star Trek streaming on the small screen in an aspect ratio befitting the big screen with cinematography by Oscar-winner Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth).

With prestige dramas such as Game of Thrones and Westworld dominating social media and watercooler conversations. Star Trek needed to be rebooted on the small screen. It's early days, but this second prequel series is already much more fun than Enterprise ever was and we haven't seen the titular starship in action. A second season is already greenlit from what I've heard.

What seemed to be nothing more than a troubled production routed in a beloved sci-fi series that began in 1966 has culminated in something mythological and awe-inspiring. To quote Captain Jean-Luc Picard in Encounter at Farpoint: "Let's see what's out there..."

What did you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider trailer

Following the first official poster for the Tomb Raider cinematic reboot starring Alicia Vikander, which garnered a mixed reaction earlier this week. Because freaky neck is freaky in Photoshop fail. A trailer has dropped depicting scenes inspired by the video game reboot from 2013. So much so, fans (myself included) of the video game franchise will see nothing new and this is a good thing.

Do you think Vikander is a worthy successor to Angelina Jolie in the role of Lara Croft on the big screen? She sounds like Camilla Luddington who voices the beloved character in the video game series since 2013. Let me know in the comments below.

Tomb Raider opens 16th March 2018.

Sunday 17 September 2017

Blade Runner 2049 prequel starring Dave Bautista

Warner Bros. has released the second of three prequels to Blade Runner 2049.

The short film follows Sapper Montan (Dave Bautista) a replicant on the run. 2048: Nowhere to Run is the second of three short films that will fill in the timeline between the original Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 starring Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling.

This is the official synopsis for Blade Runner 2049:

"Thirty years after the events of the first film, a new blade runner, LAPD Officer K (Ryan Gosling), unearths a long-buried secret that has the potential to plunge what’s left of society into chaos. K’s discovery leads him on a quest to find Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former LAPD blade runner who has been missing for 30 years."

Blade Runner 2049 is in theatres 6th October.

Thursday 14 September 2017

Mark Hamill talks to GQ about playing Luke Skywalker

Actor Mark Hamill recently talked to British GQ magazine about the success of Star Wars and playing Luke Skywalker.

Hamill is GQ's Icon of the Year 2017. He reprises the role of Luke Skywalker in director Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi this December.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Win The Doctors: The Tom Baker Years on DVD

Tom Baker is, arguably, the most recognisable actor to play Doctor Who. For seven years, between 1974 to 1981, Baker battled evil (with the aid of jelly babies) on Saturday teatimes and popularised the series across the Atlantic.

Now, the Fourth Doctor’s era, regarded by many fans (myself included) as a golden age, is subject to six excellent documentaries spread over a 2-disc DVD to be released on 18th September.

The Doctors: The Tom Baker Years features the most comprehensive collection of interviews with the actors and creators who brought the world of Doctor Who to life.

- Includes six documentaries making the definitive set of interviews with the team of actors who brought the TOM BAKER era of DOCTOR WHO to life.
- Presented by voice of the Daleks Nicholas Briggs.
- Quality in-depth interviews with Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane), Ian Marter (Harry), Louise Jameson (Leela), Mary Tamm (Romana) and John Leeson (Voice of K9).
- This 2 DISC special collector's edition is 5 hours of pure nostalgia, which will give you a whole new insight into the making of Doctor Who.
- Includes special feature: Introduction by Nicholas Briggs & Producer Keith Barnfather.

To celebrate the release of The Doctors: The Tom Baker Years, we’re offering two readers a chance to win a copy on DVD.

To be in with a chance of winning, just answer this simple question:

Which serial was Tom Baker’s first as the titular Time Lord?

A. The Hand of Fear
B. Logopolis
C. Robot

Please leave your answer in the comments below.

The competition is open to UK readers only and closes Friday, 22nd September. The winners will be randomly selected and contacted soon thereafter. Good luck.

Pre-order The Doctors: The Tom Bakery Years from Amazon. This is an affiliate link and as such, I may receive compensation for any referrals (at no extra cost to yourself).

Special thanks to Koch Media for supplying the competition prizes.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

JJ Abrams replaces Colin Trevorrow on Star Wars

Lucasfilm announced today that JJ Abrams will return to write and direct the final chapter in the Star Wars sequel trilogy in the wake of Colin Trevorrow's departure.

“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy,” said Lucasfilm President Kathleen Kennedy.

The Force Awakens revitalised the saga and Abrams has the ability to share a singular vision whilst remaining an auteur. He directed Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness with aplomb.

Star Wars: Episode IX has been moved from May to December 2019. Frankly, all Star Wars movies should be released during the holiday season as the franchise has cornered the festive market since 2015.

What do you think about JJ Abrams shepherding the trilogy home? Let me know in the comments below.

Monday 11 September 2017

SyFy celebrates 25 years with Battlestar Galactica

The SyFy channel began in 1992, but I didn't take much notice until the early part of this century.

The series that inspired this lifelong sci-fi geek to become a true believer was the reboot of Battlestar Galactica. Showrunner Ronald D. Moore's tech noir spin on a camp classic from Glen A. Larson cashing in on the success of Star Wars in 1977. This was in the wake of 9/11.

In 2005 I imported a copy of the mini-series on R1 DVD. Expecting very little, I was instantly gripped by its chilling tale of humanity on the brink of extinction. All but wiped out by its sentient machine servants, the Cylons, in a quest for supremacy. A sci-fi trope that has not lost its edge in recent years.

Much was made of Starbuck's recasting as a female - years before Jodie Whittaker would takeover as Doctor Who - and Katee Sackhoff's stellar performance, alongside an amazing cast, soon put this to rest.

Tricia Helfer's iconic portrayal as Six remains a genre great. The actress would go on to voice EDI in the original Mass Effect trilogy to startling effect and move this videogamer to tears in Mass Effect 3.

The late Richard Hatch, who portrayed Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica and became a childhood hero alongside Luke Skywalker and The Six Million Dollar Man, played Tom Zarek in Ronald D. Moore's lauded reboot.

Battlestar Galactica has left a lasting legacy in popular culture from The Big Bang Theory to Portlandia.

SyFy will be celebrating the channel's silver anniversary with a Battlestar Galactica marathon this month. Earlier this year the cast and crew reunited for an ATX Festival panel to reminisce about their time on the series.

Season one opener 33 remains a dramatic touchstone, a masterclass in tension, never bettered. What's your favourite episode of Battlestar Galactica? Let me know in the comments below.

Friday 8 September 2017

Topps trading card shows Snoke in The Last Jedi

Supreme Leader Snoke remains as much a mystery as Rey in the Star Wars sequel trilogy.

Snoke first appeared as a giant hologram in JJ Abrams' The Force Awakens and fans will learn more about the power behind the First Order in Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi this December.

Fans got their first glimpse of Snoke's toy incarnation before Force Friday. Now, Topps reveals how he'll look in The Last Jedi. His appearance is akin to a reconstructed Anakin Skywalker. It's divisive out of context sans Andy Serkis' voiceover. Snoke's a giant seemingly channelling Hugh Hefner in a golden robe. More intergalactic playboy than menace.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

Wednesday 6 September 2017

Director Colin Trevorrow exits Star Wars: Episode IX

Following weeks of speculation in the wake of the troubled Han Solo spin-off movie that saw director Ron Howard take the helm from wonderkids Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Colin Trevorrow is the latest director to leave a Star Wars movie at Disney.

Is the franchise in creative crisis at the Mouse House? Even Gareth Edwards' Rogue One underwent an extensive summer reshoot under the auspices of Tony Gilroy. Lucasfilm has released a statement:

"Lucasfilm and Colin Trevorrow have mutually chosen to part ways on Star Wars: Episode IX. Colin has been a wonderful collaborator throughout the development process but we have all come to the conclusion that our visions for the project differ. We wish Colin the best and will be sharing more information about the film soon."

There's been no negative coverage surrounding Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi, which is released in theatres this December. Will Johnson be asked to direct or could JJ Abrams return for the final installment in the sequel trilogy? Both directors share Lucasfilm's vision for an homogenised Star Wars universe, and I say that in the best sense of the word.

Who would you like to see direct Star Wars: Episode IX? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

Royal Mail Star Wars stamp collection for The Last Jedi

The Royal Mail has announced 8 stamps to commemorate the release of Star Wars: The Last Jedi this December.

The UK postal service did this for The Force Awakens in 2015 with these, again, illustrated by British artist Malcolm Tween.

The special edition stamps focus on droids and aliens. Porg, Chewbacca, BB-8, R2-D2 and C-3PO are among those who'll appear on the stamps.

The Star Wars stamps are available both individually or part of limited edition presentations. I've ordered a set of framed stamps to go with The Force Awakens collection.

Saturday 2 September 2017

Star Wars fans share their Force Friday II stories

So, yesterday was Force Friday II, Black Friday for Star Wars fans, and many took to social media to share their merchandise haul stories to commemorate the release of The Last Jedi this December.

I shopped online for The Last Jedi ephemera and lived vicariously through fans' in-store anecdotes from Target to Toys "R" Us. Here's a selection of my favourites.

Find the Force, Disney's augmented reality (AR) treasure hunt, runs until 3rd September in participating stores worldwide.

How did you celebrate Force Friday II? Let me know in the comments below.